Deborah Witkiss, of Law Society strategic partner Insight Legal, looks at the software options – from the cloud to workflow solutions – which can help your firm survive and thrive
You don’t need anyone to tell you that life is still far from normal. Judging by the current outlook, life will not be normal for a long time yet. For the first weeks of the first lockdown, many firms seemed to take the approach of ‘battening down the hatches’ and waiting for things to blow over. Now, some eight months on, it is abundantly clear that this approach just will not work. Businesses must find a way to function successfully now, and technology is a key enabler of this ‘new normal’. Below, I offer six tips for how to use technology to support your business during the pandemic.
1. Make remote working easy with cloud software
The world moved instantly to remote working in March when the first coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown came into force in a fairly sudden way. Those already operating cloud systems made the transition from work to home effortlessly. Those without had quite a challenge on their hands.
Cloud systems are accessed through an internet connection from absolutely anywhere. You can convert any cosy or quiet corner at home into a workstation. The government-enforced restrictions, although disruptors, didn’t impact business continuity in any notable way for practices using cloud-hosted applications. Not only can end users log in wherever, they can also do so whenever, thereby accommodating flexible working patterns due to family commitments, shielding, or even illness.
2. Use case management tools to get the same volume of work done with fewer staff
Matter progress can be threatened during the pandemic, for the simple reason that you have fewer employees due to the extended period of furlough leave and the possibility of having undergone redundancies to stabilise your financial positioning. Yet legal matters do not stop. Individuals and companies still launch new cases and expect headway to be made on existing cases, regardless of your reduced overall headcount.
Once again, your software is the channel to overcome this problem. Case workflow assistance, augmented by automation, ensures the same output even when input decreases. This is not to suggest your software replaces people. The nature of law demands human resources to deliver client-facing services. It is the mundane, administration-heavy tasks that can be eliminated by software, for significant time savings all round. Saving time boosts the productivity of each remaining member of staff. Software is your ally, not your enemy.
3. Alleviate client confidentiality concerns about revised working methods
Your data has value to cybercriminals, and data security threats are ongoing. That is one facet which COVID-19 has not put a stop to. If you are not working digitally, you will either have staff working with paper files at home, or staff working with paper files at the office. The first scenario is a potential data protection issue – confidential information is exposed. The second scenario is a wellbeing and health and safety issue – increased risk of coronavirus. The alternative is document management software with robust cybersecurity standards for your home-workers.
Ideally, the aforementioned cloud case management software will contain this document management functionality, which negates the need for paper files. This alone gives greater assurances around confidentiality, because of the ensuing clean desk set-up. With the added benefit of data safety features inherent in your software – such as multiple-level encryption and data protection compliance mechanisms – confidentiality is a promise you can confidently make.
4. Choose a reliable software partner to keep your business engine running
If your software provider is a big, corporate organisation, the chances are you’re treated as nothing special, and support is generally lacklustre, through a call centre. To these faceless suppliers, you are merely a number – one of thousands of clients. This may sound acceptable on the whole, but when you need to ask for help, you will wish you were better supported.
The opposite is smaller, friendly software houses who will offer tailored support and adopt a personal approach. Whether you are looking to custom-make your own workflows, preparing for audits and inspections, creating specific bespoke reports, seeking to correct mistakes you’ve made inadvertently, or any other type of support query, these software providers can help. In a way, software support is a bit like having an insurance policy: you hope you’ll never have to call on it, but you have peace of mind knowing that it’s there.
5. Supervise your teams effectively even when based at disparate locations
Dispersed workforces are commonplace during lockdown. Even in the period between the two lockdowns, most law firms carried on with at least some remote working in order to minimise footfall in the office.
Having staff scattered up and down the country may sound a logistical supervisory nightmare. However, although employees do demand more guidance than previously, due to not having a ‘second pair of eyes’ around, it is straightforward to supervise effectively if you have the right software. Workflow elements ensure the right processes are being followed, authorisation procedures permit a certain measure of control, and case progress is tracked for every action taken. You can get an accurate snapshot of where all team members are up to with their matters, and perform file reviews at any given point in time.
6. Don’t delay important business decisions because ‘the time isn’t right’
What’s happening is happening. With no end yet in sight, it could be a very lengthy wait until we get back to how we were before – if we ever will. Don’t sit in limbo. Holding off making decisions about your business is an ill-advised strategy. It is setting yourself up for a fall. Don’t be scared by the practicalities surrounding software installation. It’s not as difficult to implement as you may think.
Most law firms will be deep in the midst of business continuity planning, and this might necessitate serious consideration of your software options.
At Insight Legal, we believe that lockdown and continued home working permit valuable opportunity to move onto a new legal software solution. Bear in mind the dangers of not doing enough. One depressing prediction is that three out of four high street law firms may close due to COVID-19. Decisions which were previously deemed risky, such as switching software supplier, could become the wisest choices of all.
A small word of warning here: long, locked-in contracts are too rigid and binding for our current situation. Shorter-term or rolling monthly contracts allow you to make essential adjustments as your labour pool contracts or expands, or if you simply change your mind about your supplier.
By attending to the items in this checklist, your company is effectively building its own shelter from the storm that continues to rage around us all. With the optimum platform – your software – and with the perfect partner – your software house – you can set up your business to avoid it becoming another unfortunate casualty of the pandemic.
Deborah Witkiss is chief operating officer of Insight Legal. Insight Legal enables law firms to work smarter, with their award-winning legal accounts, case management and practice management software.
Insight Legal is a strategic partner of the Law Society. Law Society members can benefit from 25% off the cost of Insight Legal services when purchasing Enterprise Software Licences.
For more information, visit our Membership offers page.